“For as the heaven is high above the earth so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.”
It’s exciting to live in our scientific age.
The advantages are many.
Our text means more to us because of the science of astronomy.
“As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.”
The point that the Holy Spirit through the psalmist David makes is simply this: God’s mercy is so great that it staggers our imagination. We cannot begin to fathom the depth or height of God’s mercy, for His mercy is without measure. To make this clear, he draws an analogy between the vast reaches of space that encircle the earth and the abundant measure of God’s mercy that encircles the sinner.
This analogy we can appreciate more fully today.
From a natural point of view, man is surely heavenly minded today. The space-age craze has swept over the entire earth. Almost daily we are confronted with the lofty ascent of one satellite after another. Circling above the earth is a literal maze of beeping wonders. Man has already made outer space his temporary home.
That which stands out most astonishingly is the distance involved. The heavens are mighty high! Manmade satellites form the lowest rung on the ladder of space. Even these range from 100 to 1000 miles above the earth. This seems insignificant when one climbs higher on the ladder. The moon is the closest natural satellite to the earth, and it towers at the distance of between 225,000 to 250,000 miles above the earth. We have observed the distance of the third rung first hand. Not so long ago we followed the Venus probe which took the space ship four months to accomplish and that traveling at 17,000 miles an hour. Venus you understand is the closest of the nine main planets of the solar system. The distance of the heavenly bodies is so great that the limited measurement of miles that is appropriate to the earth cannot apply to the distances of space. Scientists speak in terms of light-years. One light year is the distance that light travels in one year’s time, Light travels at the speed of 186,000 miles per second; multiply this by 60 and we have a light minute, by another 60 and we have a light hour, by another 24 and we have a light day, and by another 365 and we have a light year. Through means of audio and optical devices scientists today claim they have discovered heavenly Quasars as far away as 50 million or even up to 4 billion light years away. The distance becomes astounding.
As high as the heaven is above the earth! So great is Jehovah’s mercy.
Much has been made of the so-called conflict between science and the Bible. We surely must be on our guard when we study science, especially when that science is in the hands of the unregenerate. Apart from God, man refuses to recognize that the heavens and the earth declare the glory of God. In proud contempt, the natural man devises his own theories of the origin of the universe and eagerly envisions his successful conquest of every horizon in order that he may shake his fist toward the heavens and declare, “There is no God.” Most of today’s science is in the hands of such rebels.
Nevertheless, we must not lose our balance and drift into the slough of despondency and forthwith consign all science to hell! It is wrong for us to reason, “science is in the hands of evil men, therefore we must have nothing to do with science.” In the Reformed tradition, we have treasured the Scriptural truth that even as the husk serves the development of the ear of corn, so the reprobate world serves the elect kernel. We must likewise apply this principle to the realm of science. Using the Bible as the rock of authority for all truth, including scientific, we have the privilege to use in the service of our God, the findings of all men. We reject that which conflicts with the Bible, we appropriate that which supports the Bible.
Our text is a case in point. As children of God we stand under God’s canopy and gaze in rapt wonder. We reflect upon the massive heavenly bodies, each one in its own precise orbit. We contemplate the vast span of space; we cannot help crying out with the Psalmist, “What is man that thou art mindful of him and the son of man that thou hast visited him?” We grapple with the profound metaphysical query, why are there such distances in space? Why did God create so many heavenly bodies that cannot even be seen with the naked eye? If from God’s point of view, the earth is the center of the universe, more particularly His people that dwell upon the earth, why did God see fit to make such vast heavens?
Our text provides the answer. We as children of God have a concrete demonstration before our eyes of the amazing wonder of God’s mercy. Whenever we study the vast distances of space, whenever we visit the Planetarium or gaze through a telescope we have an object lesson in the greatness of God’s mercy. “As high as the heaven is above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.” The more we see this, the more we shout forth, “My God, how great thou art!”
Science has an important place in the life of the saint.
Mercy without measure!
Mercy is God’s compassion for His suffering children. To express it in the words of the author of the Hebrews, God in mercy is touched with the feelings of our infirmities. While we dwell here in the midst of our earthly pilgrimage, we suffer much. Yes, we groan under the collapse of this earthly house. How anxious we become when the forces of evil converge upon us to eat up our flesh. Lonely tears of sleepless nights press heavenward time and time again. In penitence we cry out, “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Jehovah hears, for He is merciful. He is attentive to hear and to deliver us from evil.
God is merciful. He is in Himself the only Blessed One, the Highest Good. As such, He is all sufficient, nothing can add to nor detract from His own goodness. Yet, He freely willed that He would draw into the sphere of His goodness His people. This will of God is the eternal decree of election. God’s mercy to us is rooted in this decree. It is His good pleasure that there should be gathered “around His throne a people that would forever acknowledge that He is the Most Blessed One. In mercy He lifts us from hell to heaven.
Our text speaks, of the greatness of mercy, “As high as the heaven is above the earth so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him.” We must see this greatness in especially three ways.
In the first place, God’s mercy is great when we consider upon whom that mercy is shown.
In our text they are described as “them that fear him.” We must be very careful that we do not imagine that God waits patiently in heaven for mankind to express reverence and worshipful adoration toward Him, and as soon as they do this, He condescends upon them in mercy. This would make God’s mercy conditional upon our fear of Him and forever close the door of heaven to us. Neither can we claim any right to God’s mercy at all; God’s mercy is free! It is that unmerited compassion which God expresses toward us whereby He freely desires to lift us out of our deepest woes and elevate us into the glory of His presence.
The greatness of this mercy is that we do not deserve it. Not only are we earthly and He is heavenly, a reason alone which would make God’s mercy beyond comprehension, but especially we are sinners and He is the Holy God! As the Holy One He delights only in that which is good, and hates all that which is evil. God is a consuming fire against all the workers of iniquity.
It is this God that looks upon us and has compassionupon us. We who wallow in the filth of sin, for our sins rise up against us prevailing day by day, are the objects of God’s mercy. We cry out to Him for forgiveness: in mercy He forgives. We experience that the wages of sin is death and in the midst of death cry out to Him and ask that He will not forsake us: in mercy He condescends to us to sooth us with His promises, assuring us that He will not deal with us as we deserve, but He will deliver us.
That’s great! Unfathomably great.
In the second place we see the greatness of His mercy when we consider the way in which He establishes this bond of compassion. We know that God cannot deny Himself and have compassion upon us as sinners. In ourselves we deserve His judgment. For this reason God has no mercy for the wicked reprobate who remain in their iniquities. His mercy to them that fear Him is rooted in our Lord Jesus Christ.
While we stand before the Cross of Calvary we begin to grasp a little of the greatness of Father’s mercy. Desiring to lift us out of the pains of death, He freely willed that the burden of our sins would be laid upon His only begotten Son. Our sins bore a terrible price. The scales of divine justice demanded that the punishment of sins had to be borne. That judgment spelled out the terrible wrath of almighty God against all our sins. God knew that we could not bear the wrath. If He should visit us with wrath we would be consumed in a moment. In mercy He sent His only begotten Son into the world in order that He might lay upon Him the iniquities of us all. God’s mercy to us was so great, that rather than visit His adopted children with the judgment they deserved, He poured out His judgment upon His own natural Son, a judgment He did not even deserve.
No wonder He cried out of the darkness, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me.” Hell is a terrible lonely place. In mercy God sent His own Son there in order that He might bear eternal judgment compressed into moments of time. He loved us even unto death.
Finally, the greatness of this mercy is driven home to us when we consider the benefits for us. Already now, the mercy of God brings tears of thankfulness to our eyes. What a burden of guilt is rolled from our hearts when God in mercy comes to us through our Lord Jesus Christ in the preaching of the gospel. How we relish the comfort of the Word when Father assures us that in all His dealings with us, He is not visiting us with wrath, not even when we are sorely afflicted; He is rather drawing us nearer unto Himself. When we weep—in mercy He dries our tears and comforts our hearts. When we are lonely—in mercy He comes to be our Friend. When we are tossed upon the turbulent sea of life—in mercy He provides an anchor for our soul. In mercy He forgives all our transgressions and assures us of life everlasting.
No wonder heaven will be so beautiful! Our merciful Father assures us even now that presently, we shall be delivered from all sufferings, from sorrows, from all heartache, and we shall be taken unto Himself, where joy and peace shall abide forever. So compassionate is our Father, He delivers us from all evil and blesses us with every good.
Do you fear Him? This is for you. As we bow before His majesty and acknowledge that He is God and God alone, we have the proof that in mercy Father has drawn us within the fellowship of His friendship. In deepest humility we acknowledge that man is nothing, God is all and in all. Then we fear Him and Him alone.
His mercy is great, so great that it is as high as the heaven is above the earth.
Look at the stars sometime and you will begin to understand.
Mercy, without measure.